BOSTON – The home dressing room at TD Garden was full of tears, heartbreak and shell-shocked silence in the moments following Boston’s Game 7 Stanley Cup Final loss to the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday night.
There had been so much excitement and optimism given Boston’s overwhelming playoff experience, given how hot goaltender Tuukka Rask had been throughout the postseason and given the way Boston had seemingly cracked the Blues during Game 6 in St. Louis. But instead it was a sad, frustrated and somewhat resigned Bruins dressing room following a 4-1 loss to the Blues in Game 7 where St. Louis was named Stanley Cup champs on Boston’s home ice.
There were no controversial calls and no predatory hits from the Blues players looking to knock Bruins skaters out of the postseason. Instead St. Louis played it straight and simply overpowered the Bruins 5-on-5 while taking advantage of a couple of mistakes and an average night from Tuukka Rask in a game where the Bruins needed to be stellar.
“It’s an empty feeling. It’s a long year. Someone had to win and someone had to lose, and we came out on the wrong side of it. It’s not the way you picture it. It’s as simple as that,” said Bruce Cassidy. “I don’t think anybody is leaving the building tonight unfortunately in our locker room saying they put their best foot forward unfortunately, and that’s the whole group. We didn’t get it done at every position, coaching staff, whatever, they ended up being better than us and did what they had to do to win. It’s that simple.”
Cassidy’s words ring true when you consider that St. Louis’ best players showed up with Alex Pietrangelo, Ryan O’Reilly, Jordan Binnington and Brayden Schenn all factoring in a big way into the win, and Boston’s best players were mostly nowhere to be found in a decisive Game 7 where they needed to be difference-makers. The Bruins didn’t score the first goal and had a breakdown in the final seconds of the first period that put them down 2-0 as they headed into the first intermission.
The Bruins went out with a whimper rather than a mighty fight kicking and screaming, and it amounts to a giant missed opportunity for the Black and Gold. Once the Washington Capitals, Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins went out in the first round of the playoffs, the pathway to the Stanley Cup Final was wide open in the East after they managed to advance past the Maple Leafs. They were a better, deeper and more dangerous team than St. Louis on paper headed into the Cup Final, and they had home-ice advantage as it played out in Game 7.
Despite all these things, the Bruins let slip through their fingers the first Game 7 chance to win the Cup on home ice in franchise history.
“It’s hard to tell right now to be honest with you,” said Bergeron, when asked about the Bruins getting back to this point again. “It’s hard to really think past what’s going on tonight, so like I said, it’s heartbreaking. You know, that’s it.
“Whatever we say doesn’t matter because it is what it is. I’m proud of the guys. I’m proud of everyone and the way that we’ve competed. But then you don’t get the result and it’s hard to be standing here and answering questions.”
In doing so the Black and Gold almost certainly have blown their last, best chance to win with this particular group of core Bruins players. With Zdeno Chara at 42 years old and Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Brad Marchand and Tuukka Rask all in their 30’s, the chances of the Bruins being as healthy and productive over a two-plus month Stanley Cup run aren’t very good at all. Sure, the futures are bright for young guys like David Pastrnak, Charlie McAvoy, Jake DeBrusk and Brandon Carlo, and maybe they will be back again in the Cup Final one of these days.
“I thought we battled hard. Like I said, if you look at it it’s such a tough moment to kind of reflect on right after. This group battled really hard all year long, we overcame some adversity, and some challenges,” said Zdeno Chara, who missed exactly zero games in these playoffs after fracturing his jaw in Game 4 of the Cup Final. “I’m really proud of this team. There is for sure a lot of character in this room and I’m sure there is a bright future for this team.
“We can be proud of what we’ve done, but we just came short. Sometimes those downs make you stronger and I believe this team still has potential to get back to the Final and get it done.”
Maybe yes and maybe no.
But the odds are extremely slim that the playoff field will open up again perfectly for the Bruins along with the ideal blend of proven vets and talented youngsters on the roster. This was the season for guys like Bergeron, Marchand, Chara and Rask to cement their respective legacies at the NHL level, and for the younger generation to join them as proven Cup winners.
Instead there is “devastation”, “heartbreak” and a whole bunch of players who understandably bawled their way through Wednesday night’s postgame. It’s a credit to them that they came out and faced the music, but part of the sadness had to be about the unfortunate reality that they might not be back this away again anytime soon.
The window is closing on this aging Bruins core group and the chances for some of them to match this season’s output again aren’t very good. Certainly nobody is expecting that David Krejci is going to score 20 goals again in a season during his NHL career, and Bergeron continues to see his body break down after 16 rigorous, heavy-mile years at the NHL level.
That’s why getting all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final and falling short has to be a crushing twist of fate, and a sobering reminder that might have been their final chance to hoist the Cup one last time.
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